Belfast Telegraph

Tony Blair pandered to extremism, raps Dolores Kelly over ex-PM's legacy

By Cate mcCurry

SDLP Assembly member Dolores Kelly has slammed Tony Blair's comments over tackling segregation in Northern Ireland, accusing the former Labour leader of giving "unfair prominence" to the extremes during his time in government.

Ms Kelly said it was "a bit rich" of Mr Blair to say that "democracy has taken root" in Northern Ireland when politicians are elected on their ability to lead the country.

In an interview with BBC to mark the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising, he said that more work was needed to end segregation in Northern Ireland and stressed the continued need to be "vigilant" about the threat from terrorism.

The former Prime Minister, who brokered the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) in 1998, said there was no longer community support for terrorists here but "you can't drop your guard at all".

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Some of the deep social problems and their political consequences still remain and what is true also is that it is still very easy for politics to break back into sectarianism.

"You have got to break down segregation. It's not done always by laws or political agreements, it is also done at a grassroots level, it is done by changes of attitude in the mindset over time and it's also by achieving a sense in the politics that people want to move on.

"You know when a democracy has taken root and that is when you elect the best person in your judgment to lead the country. It's not where the person came from or what background, it's what they stand for and what they can do for the people as a whole."

Ms Kelly (below), who is a SDLP Policing Board member, said: "It's a bit rich and bit late for Tony Blair to be telling us that given his government gave undue and unfair precedence and prominence to the extremes and they didn't adequately support those parties, particularly the Ulster Unionists and the SDLP who actually made it (GFA) happen.

"Tony Blair and his government of the day were not spectators, they had key roles to play and they could have laid down some basic obligations which one would have expected in a democracy.

"People were prepared to give a silent nod and look the other way. This resulted in on-the-run (letters) and stuff that was hidden from view, and Tony Blair was part and parcel of those side deals and propped up the extremes and didn't call them out for their ongoing involvement in violence and criminality."

DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson, who left the UUP in 2003 following a number of disagreements in the wake of the GFA, said the agreement was "deeply flawed".

"I'm clear that the agreement is not a panacea and never could have been in terms of dealing with the legacy of over 30 years of violent conflict in Northern Ireland," he said. "Sadly at times there are small elements of our society that can revert to sectarian attitudes. As someone who opposed the release of the prisoners, it would not surprise me if a number have become involved again in terrorism.

"The Good Friday Agreement was deeply flawed and we have had to work hard over the years to put right the things that were wrong with that agreement and we have come a long way."

Alliance leader David Ford said that other parties need to "step forward" in its progress.

"The GFA is no longer a fragile young child, nor is it even a difficult toddler or stroppy teenager. It is reaching its maturity and it is long past time other parties stepped forward as well and helped Northern Ireland move forward, faster," he said.

"This year will see some young people who weren't even born on Good Friday 1998 able to vote for the first time. That generation has grown up as their political leaders have squabbled and squandered chances."

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